A preview and breakdown of the matchup between the Bears and Seahawks on Dec. 2, 2012.
Bears offense vs. Seahawks defense
Last week was a complete team victory, one of the few the Bears have had this season. Coming back from a concussion against a team with a good pass rush, Jay Cutler wasn’t asked to do much in the passing game. He threw for only 188 yards but he was efficient by connecting on 23 of his 31 passes and completed a laser throw to Matt Spaeth on the side of the end zone for a touchdown. What the Bears instead chose to do was rely on their run game and they managed to rush the ball 39 times to control the clock and the tempo. They’ll need to run a similar offense this week against one of the top defenses in the NFL. The Seahawks have a strong pass rush — visions of that eight-sack first half effort against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are ingrained in my head — led by defensive ends Chris Clemons (8 sacks) and Bruce Irvin (7 sacks). Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane is a force up the middle and has recorded three sacks this year. Where the Seahawks are strongest, though, is in the secondary. Richard Sherman (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) and Brandon Browner (6-foot-4, 221 pounds) form one of the most physically imposing cornerback duos in the NFL. Together, they have combined for seven interceptions this season. Bears receiver Brandon Marshall (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) normally has his way with cornerbacks who are smaller than him but will meet his match this week. Marshall, however, says he is up for the challenge. Hopefully Cutler doesn’t try to force the ball to Marshall and the Bears instead rely on their run game to get the job done. This particular matchup will hinge on how well the Bears’ retooled offensive line can protect Cutler and open up running lanes. Gabe Carimi will reportedly start at right guard, next to Jonathan Scott, the man who took Carimi’s right tackle position. Left guard Chris Spencer is out, which means Edwin Williams might get the nod. The team signed veteran, and former Pro Bowler, Andre Gurode this week but he might not be ready to play by Sunday.
Bears defense vs. Seahawks offense
One of the most interesting story lines and positional battles this offseason and into the preseason was that of the Seahawks quarterback position. The team went out and signed former Packers backup Matt Flynn and paid him well based on a small body of work. It didn’t take long, however, for the Seahawks to turn to rookie Russell Wilson, even starting him in the team’s third preseason game — typically the dress rehearsal for the regular season. Wilson has been unspectacular but extremely efficient this year. With a good defense and a strong run game, the team doesn’t need him to light up the scoreboard; just to take care of the ball, which is exactly what he has done throwing just eight interceptions this year. Wilson doesn’t take a lot of chances and he’s ranked 11th with a 93.9 passer rating. Seattle’s offense mainly operates through running back Marshawn Lynch, who is currently third in the NFL in rushing yards. Lynch generally doesn’t break off huge runs — he has just three rushes of over 20 yards, which ranks him 19th in the NFL. But he does wear defenses down with his physical, bruising style of run. Expect to hear the term “Beast Mode” quite often in this game, which has become Lynch’s signature persona. The Seahawks don’t have many weapons on the outside. Sidney Rice leads the team in receptions but he hasn’t been the same player since his days with the Vikings and with Brett Favre as his quarterback. He’s questionable with a calf injury for this one. Golden Tate is a speedster on the outside, but hardly a force to be reckoned with. If the Bears can shut down, or at least contain Lynch, they’ll force Wilson to win the game with his arm — something Christian Ponder couldn’t do for the Vikings last week. Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman — both battling ankle injuries — are listed as probable for the game.
There’s nothing special about Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka. In fact, he’s one of the few kickers in the league to miss an extra point this season. Bears kicker Robbie Gould has the edge there. But there are few other places where the Seahawks are weaker. (I say this every year but it never ceases to be funny…) Jon Ryan — the Seahawks’ punter, not the venture capitalist from New Hampshire in “Wedding Crashers” — is seventh in the league with a 42.1 net average. He’s also sixth in the league in punts downed inside the 20 with 22. Kick returner Leon Washington, who tied the NFL record of eight career kickoff return touchdowns last week against the Dolphins, is third in the league in kick return average. You can bet he’d like to own the record by himself and to do so against a team rich in return tradition this week would be storybook for him. The Bears will have to do without their dynamic — yet maddeningly inconsistent — returner, Devin Hester, who is out with a concussion.
You’ve probably heard a lot of talk by now about how the Seahawks have come into Chicago and beat the Bears twice in the past few years. What probably has been neglected to be mentioned, though, is that one of those losses came last year during the Cutler hiatus and the Caleb Hanie fiasco, and the other came during the first year of the Mike Martz experiment when the Mad Scientist — or Certified Whack Job — called just 14 rushing plays compared to 45 pass plays. That’s right, only 23% rushing plays. Anybody remember that 2010 game? It was also one of the few games Briggs has missed in his career. Something tells me things will be much different this time around with a much better Bears defense and an offense that will probably call closer to 50% rushing plays in the game plan. Keep in mind, though, that this is no pushover team. This a Seahawks team that beat the Packers (with a little bit of help from the replacement officials) and the Patriots. Of course, both of those occurred in Seattle. In fact, the Seahawks are 1-5 on the road this year. If ever there was a homefield advantage, this is it. A week after making perhaps one of the farthest trips a team can make in the NFL — from Seattle to Miami — the Seahawks had to fly back home and now will make another trip east to face the Bears in a noon game. That kind of traveling can have an effect on players’ bodies. For whatever reason, I feel like the Bears have taken the Seahawks lightly the past few times they’ve come to Chicago. I don’t see that being a problem this week. Expect a tough game with a close outcome, but I see the Bears coming out on top this time.
Final Score: Chicago 24, Seattle 20